In the late 1950s, the University of California, Berkeley started cracking down on campus politicking. By the ’60s, this effort almost became a total ban. The backlash congealed into the famous Free Speech Movement, whose strategy was to make sure that any rulebreakers were accompanied by dozens (or more) others. This way, the ban’s enemies could paralyze virtually any disciplinary enforcement. The signature moment was a march to a central campus building where participants held giant signs in favor of free speech.

There’s an iconic photo of the demonstrators marching through Sather Gate in November 1964. Ironically, they could not have done so in recent weeks: The antithesis of the Free Speech Movement, at the center of what is now the antithesis of Berkeley 1964, has had the gate blocked off. Pro-Hamas activists on campus have been blocking the gate and harassing any Jewish students in the vicinity. This comes on the heels of the same group’s violent and highly symbolic night of fascist role playing, in which they forced the cancellation of a Jewish speaker by physically assaulting a Jewish woman, spitting on others, smashing the venue’s window and hurling obscenities that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in The Zone of Interest.

It is appropriate, then, that the jackboot siege of Sather Gate was protested on Monday by a peaceful but determined march of Jews reprising their role as enemies of blood-and-soil racial hierarchies. “At noon,” an ABC affiliate reported that “the Jewish students marched onto Sproul Plaza and instead of passing through Sather Gate and past the banner, they avoided a confrontation by literally fording the creek to get to the other side on a foot path.” The report continues: “The crowd of 200 Jewish supporters ended up in front of California Hall where faculty members offered their support, commenting on the Feb. 26 disturbance that forced Jewish students to move off campus.”

That Feb. 26 incident was the breaking point. Anti-Semitic harassment and threats have been part of life for students there since Oct. 7. Other Jews have been assaulted on campus. A federal civil-rights complaint alleges that two-dozen law-school groups have anti-Jewish policies. Kosher restaurants have been targeted. It’s reached the point where one Jewish Berkeley professor is staging a live-in at his campus office.

Berkeley’s repression of Jewish civil rights won’t be solved by one march, but the change in posture to visible protest is welcome. The students and families tried working with the administration but have been ignored at every turn. A school spokesman even admitted the university would not be taking down the Palestine banner blocking part of campus because, although it clearly violates campus rules, “we assessed that using law-enforcement to clear it would create turmoil.” And God forbid there should be turmoil!

Back to that professor: His name is Ron Hassner, and he is the Israel studies chair at Berkeley. Until the school takes certain steps to ensure the safety of its Jewish students, Hassner isn’t leaving his office. It is a brilliant move both in ways expected and unexpected.

As a sit-in, it complements Monday’s on-campus march as another way the Jewish community at the school is turning protest culture on its head. The only nonviolent civil rights demonstrators in Berkeley are the Jews. But Hassner’s sit-in (live-in?) also became something of a beacon both for faculty and students.

“This has become the happy place, where Jewish students and faculty come to chat with one another and eat together and keep me company and encourage me, because I still smell good,” Hassner told JTA, joking about the fact that he doesn’t have a shower in his office.

He’s going to teach his classes over Zoom, and he leaves the lights on at night. There is never a moment when a passerby or even someone outside the building who can see the one light on wouldn’t be confronted with Hassner’s reminder of the school’s failures.

Hassner’s demands: Reopen Sather Gate to all students, formally apologize to and reinvite the Israeli guest speaker whose event was canceled by the violent mob, and take up mandatory training in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia by supervisors.

As Meatloaf famously sang, two out of three ain’t bad. The mandatory training part will make no difference, and it misunderstands the nature of the problem. Pro-Hamas hordes on campus are not accidentally drifting from criticism of Israel into anti-Semitism. They are starting and ending at genocidal Jew-hatred, and they have no interest in pretending otherwise. We don’t need people trained to recognize that a student putting their hands around the neck of a Jewish woman on campus and choking her is bad. We need people trained to enforce the rules and ensure those who go around assaulting women never set food on this or any other campus again. They’re not going to get that at Berkeley though, since the administration keeps saying it won’t take down a banner blocking a public walkway.

For now, it’s a pleasure watching students and faculty take up residence in the sight lines of administrators who would otherwise do their best to look away. And it’s encouraging to see that although U.S. college administrators have nary a spine among them, that isn’t true of the Jews.

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